After-dark history has been made at Queenstown Airport.
The resort’s first night flight, Air New Zealand flight NZ613 from Auckland, touched down at 7.21 last night – just seconds after a false fire alarm forced a full evacuation of the terminal.
The 89 passengers on board the Airbus A320 were then held until the all-clear to disembark was given at 7.57pm – almost two hours after initially scheduled.
Pilot-in-command Captain Mike Dorrian, co-pilot Greg Pringle and Captains Rick Moloney and Mike Tomoana were in the cockpit for the flight, initially delayed by weather.
Air New Zealand’s chief flight operations and safety officer, Captain David Morgan, who was on the flight, says the decision was made just after 4pm to hold the plane in Auckland for an hour to wait for a weather front to pass.
The unexpected delays didn’t dampen the mood of those who had waited eight years to see a night flight land, nor those on board who were greeted with a stirring kapa haka performance, aviation-themed cupcakes, hot chocolate and sweets.
Queenstown Lakes Mayor Vanessa van Uden was on the flight and told the Otago Daily Times it was awesome.
“It’s a tribute to a lot of hard, hard work from a lot of people. What a privilege for us all.”
In the Queenstown tower, chief controller Clayton Lightfoot, who cleared the flight to land at 7.20pm, says the mood was buoyant.
“It was a sense of the whole plan had come together, the culmination or years and years of hard work had come together for this particular flight.”
Morgan says last night’s landing was part of aviation history for Queenstown and New Zealand.
One of the widest smiles last night belonged to Queenstown Airport acting chief executive Mark Edghill.
“We’ve all been working together for a long time [and] we’re all very proud of what’s been achieved. [Several] organisations have had a shared vision of what we wanted to do – it’s finally realised.”
The return flight, NZ616 to Auckland, left Queenstown around 8.45pm with 159 passengers on board.
Air New Zealand’s full evening schedule begins on July 3, when the last evening flight will depart Queenstown at 7.30pm and the last arrival will land at 9.35pm. Jetstar’s first international evening service, from Melbourne, is scheduled to land on June 24.
Otago Daily Times